More dog fighting arrests made, animals need foster homes

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Officials say they've arrested three suspects connected to a dog fighting ring that was broken up earlier this month.

At a news conference Monday, the Richland County Sheriff's Department announced the arrests of 20-year-old Jolisa Cole and 23-year-old Santerrio Smith. Twenty-three-year-old Stanley Taylor was previously arrested for being involved in the dog fights.

Deputies responded to a complaint of barking dogs at a home on Camp Ground Road around 6 p.m. on September 9.

When officials arrived they noticed, what they say appeared to be, a dog fighting operation with several people involved.

Stanley Taylor was arrested earlier this month. He is charged with two counts of felony dogfighting. Cole and Smith were arrested last Friday. Cole has been charged with knowingly attending a dog fight and Smith with two counts of attempted murder after deputies say he tried to run them over with a car. Sheriff Leon Lott says a family member tipped off deputies to the whereabouts of Cole and Smith.

Investigators expect more arrests in the case.

We TMve had indications that this has been going on. We just didn TMt know exactly where it was at," explained Sheriff Leon Lott. "We received a call that identified it and led us to where we needed to be.

Authorities seized 24 dogs at the scene. Late last week they were put in the custody of the Richland County Sheriff's Department and are currently being cared for at a Midlands shelter.

Beethoven's Boy, a one-year-old pit bull, is one of those animals. He is missing an ear and is heavily scarred, investigators say it's proof he was trained to fight.

"They use shock treatments on them," said Sheriff Leon Lott. "They hang them from trees, they do all kinds of things to make them mean. These dogs aren't born being mean."

Deputies brought four animals to Monday's news briefing, three of them were puppies, all of them missing ears. Investigators say a veterinarian tells them the dogs' ears were likely cut off with scissors by people training them to fight.

"These are what people are taking and turning into vicious animals, they are not vicious animals and shouldn't be," said Lott about the the pit bulls, which were extremely playful.

Investigators are hoping to get the dogs into foster homes. Right now, they cannot be permanently adopted because they are considered evidence in the case. Authorities want people to know there are misconceptions about pit bulls, and that they are not simply vicious by nature, rather they are trained to be that way.

"If you get one like this and it's never trained to fight I don't believe that it's going to just one day snap and become a crazy dog and start killing other dogs,"said Investigator Holly Wagner of the Richland County Sheriff's Department. "I just don't believe that."

Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and while the Humane Society of the United States says there are not accurate statistics about dogfighting, they estimate roughly 100,000 people in the U.S. participate in the dangerous bloodsport that is often associated with illegal gambling and drug trafficking.

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If you're interested in fostering one of the dogs, contact Pawmetto Lifeline at 803-622-4748.